The Center Looks Toward the Future

This October, The Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada (known to most simply as The Center) will celebrate 22 years of serving the LGBTQ community of Las Vegas. As one committee of board and staff has been preparing to honor this anniversary at the annual Honorarium event, another has been actively polling the community to compile demographics and learn of current needs and desires. The data collected through three short in-person surveys and one longer online survey is being used to craft a three-year strategic plan for The Center’s expansion of programs and services.

Among those working tirelessly to take The Center to the next level are CEO Michael Dimengo, Director of Operations André Wade and Director of Development Walter Reed, all of whom have joined the staff within the past year and offer a fresh perspective on the organization with new goals and new ideas. Each has been eager to listen to our community and learn what they want and need from The Center.

“There have been key learnings that I have acquired since becoming a part of The Center.,” Dimengo says. “First, I am grateful to have learned the needs and desires of many members of the transgender community. Members of the transgender community are some of the most misunderstood persons. In meeting with many of them and learning their stories, they have commanded my respect. I also believe that the misunderstandings of the transgender community emanate right from others in our LGBTQ community. All of us need to take time to learn about each other. We are part of this rich rainbow of diversity. It is mutual respect and appreciation that binds us together. We need to take time to learn from one another.

“One clear demonstration of this is how a variety of lesbian leaders talked to me about their experiences of primary healthcare and preventive healthcare services. One woman after the next told me discouraging stories of discrimination and disrespect as they encountered medical professionals in the community where they were obtaining assistance. It’s sad. Healthcare for the lesbian community is an acute need. It has motivated me to seek additional resources and do additional planning to address the healthcare needs of our lesbian community first, while addressing the needs of healthcare among our other constituent populations.

“Another key learning for me among the many things that I have learned is centered around our youth. I’m particularly delighted every time I meet with the members of our QVolution youth program or meet with members of our Vegas MPowerment Project. I’m energized by our young people’s energy and ideas. I see so much hope and promise for them. But, at the same time, not until I came here to The Center did I learn about the challenges that these young people are experiencing in the lack of acceptance that some endure, in the bullying that they have to contend with, in the disenfranchisement that many experience from their families and close relatives. Not until I came to The Center did I learn of the gravity of youth homelessness—that LGBTQ youth homelessness is a significant piece of all youth homelessness in our community. Something has to be done to address that.”

As director of operations, Wade oversees the program managers who work closely every day with the hundreds of LGBTQ individuals who attend regular group meetings at The Center. Many come in at other times seeking help with housing, clothing, financial assistance, connection to medical care and often life-saving advice. He has learned through his team the challenges the community faces and the obstacles his own staff have to overcome to adequately serve this population.

“Something I intrinsically knew [prior to joining the staff], but now better understand, is how much The Center means to the community at-large. And that The Center is the ‘go-to’ for all things LGBTQ; therefore, we have to be nimble in our ability to respond to the various and diverse needs of the community. I’ve definitely come to understand that we are a small and mighty bunch who need a few more hours in the day to accomplish more. But we do what we can!” Wade says.

As The Center develops goals and courses of action for the future, Wade says, “We have a lot of great things happening, but we recognize that there are a lot of people in need. We’d like to be able to provide more services in house, and refer out less, so that we can decrease the time frame from referring someone to a particular service to them accessing the service. We believe that moving in the space of health care is one road we may travel down. We’d like to ensure that more LGBTQ (with an emphasis on the T and the L) have access to culturally competent and sensitive healthcare services by us providing those services ourselves. Additionally, we believe addressing the youth homelessness issue by way of a shelter or housing component will position us to serve more people in emergency need, especially when other shelter and/or housing are full or people are unwilling to access particular shelter and/or housing due to lack of LGBTQ competency.

“Additionally, we want to ensure that we can provide well-rounded services such as mental health, those that support economic well-being, family-centered services and services that continuously focus on the needs of the transgender and gender non-conforming population. Lastly, we want to make sure that all of our programs and services are accessible to communities of color. We hope to, through collaboration with others, build programs and services for the African-American, Latin@ and other people of color communities.”

A non-profit organization like The Center — which serves the public six days a week — relies on a variety of grants to sustain its individual programs and, in large part, personal donations both large and small to cover day-to-day operating costs. Reed knows firsthand that raising such funds is an ongoing challenge. His goal is to convert the financial support for the Opening New Doors capital campaign into The Rainbow Circle, a sustaining fundraising program that would support all of the activities of The Center.

“I believe the new three-year plan will identify areas, like the transgender community, that need more services. I think it will also show that to sustain the current and expanding level of services offered at The Center, we must develop new revenue streams around the programs and continue to develop a sustaining gifts program that ensures the stability of The Center,” Reed says.

“We have to be grateful because it was a strategic plan of some of our past leaders that put The Center on the trajectory of opening up its new home and its new building in March 2013,” Dimengo says. “As they did so, I believe one ‘unintended consequence’ was the enormous programmatic growth that we have experienced since opening our doors here. Last year alone, we saw a 62 percent increase in program participants over 2013. For continuity sake, we need to set operational goals that will harness that growth and manage it appropriately. We need to continue to develop our programing in service to the community.”

The Center invites any and all residents of and visitors to Southern Nevada to visit its facility at 401 S. Maryland Pkwy. in downtown Las Vegas and get involved in its ongoing programs and help further its goals. More information about meetings, activities, volunteer opportunities and ways to contribute can be found online at www.thecenterlv.org.

Pride Comes Alive! (and then some!)

I don't think any of us quite expected it. June 26, 7 a.m. here on the West Coast and 10 a.m. on the East Coast. We had been holding our breath for weeks, even months, when we heard that Obergefell vs. Hodges would be heard by The Supreme Court—raising the judicial question whether marriage equality should be recognized throughout the land. Then, at that moment, the Supreme Court of the United States announced its sweeping decision in favor of marriage equality across all 50 states of the union. Our community had been jolted. Life has not been the same!

As many people as I talked to, they described the occurrence as somewhat surreal. Over and over again, pursed on the lips of many peers was, “I never thought I would ever see this day come.” Then suddenly, in an almost incredulous fashion, the decision was handed down. Could there have been a better moment? After decades of struggle, PRIDE came alive in an entirely new way. We as LGBTQ have achieved a new level of societal recognition. We shall not be the same.

The rest of the day seemed like a carnival at The Center. Staff were embracing one another. Everything imaginable with rainbow colors was pulled out of closets. The media whirred with one interview after the next. The sheer joy at The Center was heartfelt. There were tears and laughter, hugs and high-fives, then more tears and laughter. It was hard to identify the moment.

And social media lit up like a rainbow Christmas tree. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and many other platforms carried one expression of joy and disbelief after another. There were somber moments, reflective moments, patriotic moments, as well as unwavering commitment to move it all forward. Folks related that they felt “recognized.” They felt “American” for once. One message of joy and hope after the next was spread. This uncanny world of social media will never be the same again.

And then, they turned out in the evening—in extraordinary numbers. All came to celebrate. Many came to witness history. They were all present: LGBTQ young and old, in a variety of races and ethnic groups. The sons and daughters of LGBTQ were present. So were allies. It was a family to behold in all its diversity and richness. Many came to remember the past. Others came to savor this moment in history. Still others, so PROUD of what happened to them earlier in the day, vowed to expend their efforts to end other forms of discrimination and separation felt by our community. It was a celebration of community.

Miriam Webster’s dictionary defines pride as “…a feeling that you respect yourself and deserve to be respected by other people.” Indeed, in one sweeping judgement, a new respect came to our land. Yes, it won’t quiet the detractors or silence the arguments. It won’t erase bigotry or eliminate all the shadows of discrimination and separation. But it brought us a new light for our nation—a light of inclusion. It brought us new recognition and a new respect for LGBTQ. Upon this platform of victory and hope, we will build even further.

That weekend because of a few health challenges, I was required to lay a little bit low. And throughout the whole weekend, I witnessed the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision in one of the most colorful and energetic gay PRIDE weekends all throughout the United States. PRIDE New York celebrated! PRIDE San Francisco. PRIDE Chicago and almost every major city across the nation. This was our moment of recognition. Life in these United States will never be the same. It was a PRIDE moment……and then some!

Michael Dimengo
Chief Executive Officer
mdimengo@thecenterlv.org

How fit are you... emotionally?

We’re pretty fortunate in Las Vegas. We enjoy weather that is warm and invigorating almost all year round. Take it from this Midwesterner. I am reminded that in many areas of the country, with the passage of Spring, people are looking forward to a healthy and active summer. “Spring has finally sprung in Chicago,” some good friends texted me just the other night from Chicago. Winter and the long season of inclement weather is over. People are looking forward to the invigoration of going outside. We’re motivated to get active, to lose weight in order to get into our bathing suits. There’s a general sense of getting fit and making ourselves fit. It is an annual and cyclic ritual of sorts.

I’m constantly reminded of our ability to be emotionally fit and well balanced. We’re made aware of those challenges in our work at The Center where we have the privilege to serve a wide variety of individuals in our LGBTQ community. As LGBTQ we face extraordinary odds as we live life out and proud. But living in a way that is true to ourselves can sometimes be extraordinarily challenging. We have to stay healthy amid the stresses. And, like those who are gym buddies who rely on the support of one another to pursue fitness and well-being, we need to rely on one another to challenge us to be emotionally fit and strong.

Social CirKish teaches youth circus skills, self-esteem and so much more

Starting in the summer of 2014, The Center began offering free circus skills classes to youth 10-19 years of age. Juggling, clowning, high wire, acrobatics, plus performing in a show in front of an audience all for free. The only requirement is that the student commit to showing up twice a week to classes for the entire nine weeks of the course. The program is called Social CirKish and is funded through generous contributions from the John C. Kish Foundation.

Beyond the circus skills, which also impart confidence, self-esteem and discipline, the classes improve etiquette, manners and positive interactions between youth of disparate backgrounds and their instructors. That’s the social part of Social CirKish. Inner city youth, LGBTQ youth, and youth of a variety of socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds all come together to train in circus arts and acquire more social skills.

New Trans* Programs at The Center Strive to Strengthen Relationships

When Holly Reese joined The Center’s staff as senior and transgender programs manager in 2014, she had a goal of adding numerous new trans* and gender non-conforming programs and services. Almost immediately, she introduced the hugely successful SWITCH Trans* Clothing Swap and the FLUX support group for youth, facilitated by clinical psychologist Susan Vincent, PhD. These joined the existing Trans.lation, Out of the (Gender) Box and Transmasculine Group meetings to form what is known collectively as the Identi-T* program.

The next new group to be added to the lineup is called T*gether and will launch at The Center on June 3.